Written by Kim M.
Okay, I’m going to do it; I’m going to put my pride aside and, for the first time ever, I’m going to support Timberline High School’s big time in-town rival – Boise High School. It’s all worth it in the name of preservation, right?
Like many school districts, the Boise School District created a program a few years ago that was designed to make our buildings seismically safe. This program has already “fixed” multiple older schools in town, such as North Junior High and Longfellow Elementary School. Perhaps with this fall’s controversial decision to tear down Cole and Franklin Elementaries still in mind, the school district recently called a community meeting to discuss their plans for making the Boise High School auditorium safe. There were many preservation activists at the meeting, including a large contingent from our school. And, while the plan was reasonably justified, there were many questions in the room about the preservation aspects of the proposed seismic retrofit.
So, what’s their plan? The Boise School District and Hummel Architects are planning an exoskeleton of long steel beams around the auditorium, along with multiple structural fixes on the inside. The pictures of the future auditorium look awkward, with long bars stretching from side to side and up and down. The project representatives repeatedly stressed that they want to preserve the historic architecture of the school, and that the beams would follow the original design of the auditorium with vertical and horizontal lines. However, many are skeptical if it will actually look like this when everything is said and done. Decide for yourself by imagining bars over this picture of the auditorium.
In general, there was a lot of confusion and hostility towards the board at this meeting. After a quick introductory speech by school district representatives and Hummel Architects, some 45-60 minutes were spent answering questions about the structure, its pricing, and the safety of the students. Sherri Freemuth, the Idaho representative for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told me afterwards that she was disappointed by the fact that the school board did not reveal their plan until now and that they were planning to start quickly. Many other attendees I spoke with agreed with her. While few disputed the need for safety (despite Boise being relatively earthquake free), many didn’t like how it was being done given how important this school is to the community.
Built in 1903, Boise High School is an iconic building within our community and it plays a central role in the downtown core. After almost being destroyed in 1995 (it was saved in part as a result of community input), I feel that there is certainly an obligation to save and preserve this school yet again. The people listening to the school district’s plan were stirred up because the preservation of this school and its beautiful auditorium are being derailed in the name of a relatively inexpensive safety fix.
As far as I know, the plan is moving forward as planned and will be executed this spring, despite the fact that the project representatives said they welcome all feedback.
No matter what happens, there is a lesson to be learned here; we should always demand to have input on projects that affect the places that matter in our communities – even if that means supporting a rival.
Kim M. is a student at Boise’s Timberline High School and is participating in the Boise Architecture Project. You can follow the students here on the PreservationNation blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, get daily updates from their teacher, Doug StanWiens, on Twitter.
Are you an educator interested in teaching preservation in your classroom? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources, tips, and ideas to enhance your curriculum with lessons that will teach your students to recognize and appreciate the rich history that surrounds them.
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